HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY AND HAMBURGER MONTH
The thermometer reads 90-degrees, the trees are in full bloom, the birds are chirping and the air is filled with the fragrant aroma of backyard grilling. It must be time for my Annual CTbites' Southwest Connecticut Burger Review, now celebrating its 5th anniversary.
This year I again took a slightly different approach. Over the years I have rated, and continually update, every burger I eat in CT on a scale from 1-10. To achieve the highest score, the bun-to-bun experience needs to be flawless; meat, cheese, toppings, sauce, and bun, all must work in absolute unison. There are currently thirteen incredible burgers that received a perfect “10.” From two east coast interpretations of the west coast double-double, to a food truck creation served on an Ube bun to several with bacon-onion jam, all of these burgers were spectacular. The 2016 list includes six new burgers while four from last year's list did not make the cut. The final rankings from the the Winner to number thirteen take into account not only the burgers but also the fries or chips.
Here is the CTbites' list of the Best “10” Burgers in Southwest Connecticut.
Winner - Match (South Norwalk)
This is the fifth consecutive year for Chef Matt Storch’s “Match Burger” (the only burger with that distinction) and the first time it has earned the top spot. Both the burger and the fries are perfect in every way and deliver an incredible array of flavors. It starts with a rich, grass fed short rib, chuck and brisket combination. After grilling to create a crisp char and loads of smokiness, the burger is dipped in a Bacon-Cheese Béchamel, bacon bits sit atop to add saltiness and then sweet-sour onions finish this presentation. The burger is encased in a sweet onion brioche, which adds just a little more sweetness to the burger. The fries are outstanding, crunchy on the exterior, soft and moist on the interior. The burger is available on Thursdays and sometimes Fridays, plus at lunch.
#2 - The Cottage (Westport)
NEW FOR 2016 - Chef Brian Lewis’ return to the Fairfield County restaurant scene created quite a buzz, plus an “Excellent” from the NY Times with the opening of The Cottage in Westport. Now the burger makes its debut on this list. Simply named “Burger & Fries” it includes Gruyere cheese, bacon-onion jam, fries, plus an option for a side of bone marrow. The thick patty is seared to a crusty exterior while maintaining a perfect medium-rare on the interior. The meat is incredibly deep in flavor, probably the richest of those on this list, and as it cooled the flavor increases in intensity. The melted Gruyere is full of nutty goodness and then the bacon-onion jam hits the palate. This is the best topping of any burger I tasted….a combination of smoky and sweet with large chunks of bacon. The fries are perfectly crisped on the exterior and soft on the interior, and the marrow adds another level of decadence.
#3 - South End (New Canaan)
The “South End Burger” created by Chef Nick Martschenko continues as one of the premier burgers in Fairfield County. It begins with fantastic beef, topped with Benton bacon, American cheese, South End burger sauce and served on a poppy seed roll. The flavor of the meat is perfect, charred the exterior while maintaining a medium-rare interior that oozes tons of juicy goodness. The thick slices of bacon complement the meat, a few slices of B&B pickles add another delightful flavor, and the melted American cheese envelops the patty. The chunky spiced ketchup-y sauce is a delight. The fries are delicious, lightly salted with a dusting of Parmesan cheese.
#4 - Harlan Social (Stamford) / Harlan Publick (SoNo)
Owner & Executive Chef Steve Lewandowski’s “Harlan Burger” includes a special blend of meats and then Executive Chef Michael Sobelmann (Social) and Kamal Rose (Publick) elevate the flavors with a unique house-made “Japanese Worcestershire Sauce” and an equally outstanding “Cheddar Ale Sauce,” comprised of four varieties of cheese, mushroom stock and cream ale. This is topped with a delicious bacon-onion jam. The sweet, sour, salty, umami elements were all present. All of this is encased the burger in a Portuguese Muffin from Boston (my favorite bun on the tour), which adds a sweet accent. The fries at the Harlans are delicious.
#5 - elm (New Canaan)
NEW FOR 2016 - Last year, Chef Luke Venner assumed the helm as Executive Chef and recently introduced the "Dry Aged Burger, double-double, animal style." It includes two thin patties of dry aged beef blend from Pat LaFrieda topped with slices of American cheese, pickled kohlrabi, shredded lettuce, tomato, and a house-made sauce, encased in a sesame seed Brioche bun. The meat is wonderful, deep and rich, and lots of juiciness. The cheese is incredibly creamy and perfectly melted. The sauce is one of the best in the area, elevated by grilling the onions in the sauce. The paper thin kohlrabi delivers a delightful sweet-sour combination which is balanced by the sweet tomato. The brioche‘s sweetness is the perfect choice. The burger is so good that even when the fries are not perfect, it deserves this position on the list.
#6 - Mill Street Bar + Table (Greenwich)
NEW FOR 2016 - Chef Geoff Lazlo’s latest rendition (His 2013 Burger at the Whelk was rated #1) is the “8OZ PASTURED BEEF BURGER,” with house-made mustard, aioli, Cheddar cheese, served on Pastry Chef Caryn Stabinsky’s potato-brioche, and joined by a tin of hand-cut fries. The meat (from Fleisher’s Craft) is incredibly rich, slightly gamey and full of juiciness, with a great char and smokiness from the wood-fired grill. The Arethusa Farm Cheddar cheese is nutty, similar to Gruyere, and the is one of the best I have ever tasted. The ingredients all worked in perfect balance. The fries are also outstanding, crispy on the exterior, soft on the interior and lightly salted.
#7 - Uncorked (New Canaan)
NEW FOR 2016 – The owner may be the same as South End and the chefs may be brothers, but the “Double Double” burger at Uncorked is very different from the South End Burger. The Double Double is twin-patties that are seasoned with Worcestershire sauce and slowly cooked onions, seared and joined on the toasted sesame seed bun with thinly slice zucchini pickles, melted American cheese and SE (South End) burger sauce. The patties are cooked to perfection, keeping just a tinge of pink in the center. The Worcestershire sauce and onions add wonderful depth to the meat and the zucchini pickles, with a lighter touch than traditional pickles contribute a hint of sourness. The burger is accompanied by some of the best fries in Fairfield County.
#8 - Bailey's Backyard (Ridgefield)
Chef Forrest Pasternack’s “Cheddar and Ale Burger” is served with caramelized onions, a Cheddar & ale sauce on a brioche roll. It begins with grass-fed humanely-raised beef that is mildly compressed and grilled. The meat is deep and rich in flavor and incredibly juicy. The patty is topped with delightful caramelized onions and a house-made cheddar and ale sauce that contains over 29 ingredients, with the subtle spice in the blend that best complements the cheddar cheese is za’atar, itself a combination of several spices. The burger was encased in a buttery brioche. The hand cut shoestring fries are crispy and perfectly salted.
#9 - HAPA Food Truck (Usually Stamford)
NEW FOR 2016 - The HAPA burger created by owner Chris Gonzales consists of grass-fed beef topped with pork belly, Vermont cheddar, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, house aioli, encased in HAPA’s signature ube bun. The large beef patty is delicious, with a loose, medium grind and slightly seared. A delightful and creamy slice of Cheddar cheese is melted on the patty, plus a slice of pork belly contributes a wonderful layer of smokiness and juiciness. The best caramelized onions around and the aioli intensify an already bold combination with additional sweet and spicy. The ube bun is a brioche on steroids. The fries are equally creative and delicious.
#10 - The Whelk (Westport)
The “Dry Aged Beef Burger” created by Chefs Bill Taibe and Chef Anthony Kostelis is slightly simpler than last year’s version and combines a blend of rich dry-aged beef served with sweet pickles, belle bantam cheese, bacon and onion mayo on a brioche bun. The beef is a wonderful blend from neighboring Fleisher’s Craft and is perfectly grilled and seasoned. The bacon delivers the correct amount of smokiness and the sweet pickles and the sauce add wonderful sweet and creamy additions. The nuttiness of the cheese and the onion aioli are both great complements to an already outstanding burger and the brioche is a great choice to hold these ingredients. The fries are not in the same league as the others up this list.
#11 - Fleishers Craft Kitchen (Westport)
Chef Adam Truelove’s The “Craft Burger” begins with a combination of dry-aged beef with a little added fat, dipped in an IPA cheese fondue, and topped with a few bitter greens, bacon jam and an onion ring on a brioche bun. The meat is fantastic, perfectly prepared to medium-rare and delivers that wonderful rich flavor we have grown to expect from this butcher. The IPA fondue is a thick cheese sauce that envelopes the meat and the mini-cubes of bacon are a great addition. The ingredient that elevates this burger is the bitter greens, which adds a level of complexity. The sweetness of the brioche is fantastic. The shoestring fries were expertly prepared, crispy on the exterior and soft on the interior.
#12 - The Spread (South Norwalk)
Chef Carlos Baez’s “Cheeseburger” starts with an 8-ounce patty of grass fed Kobe beef, topped with pickles, melted Cheddar cheese with a swath of spicy mayo encased in a sesame seed bun. Bacon is an option and I always order the few strips. There is no surprise in the level of juiciness in the Kobe beef and it is served with a loose grind, with rich and deep flavors. The bread and butter pickles add a great sweet-sour component and the bacon complements the patty with a smoky-salty balance. The mayo delivers a little heat to the composition and the bun adds a nice buttery complement. The fries were crispy on the exterior, soft on the interior and lightly salted.
13 – The National (Greenwich)
#13 - The National (Greenwich)
NEW FOR 2016 - Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s “THE NATIONAL UGLY BURGER” includes Cabot Cheddar cheese, crispy shallots, and a house made Ntl Sauce. The medium-sized patty is served with a nice crust and the interior presents a very loose grind, a medium level of richness, with a brisket and chuck combination. The melted cheese is thick, creamy and nutty, the sautéed shallots are very sweet and the sauce, with a tomato-tanginess, is delicious. The Challah roll is a great choice. Unfortunately, it is served with very disappointing malt vinegar chips, which causes this burger to drop to the bottom of this list.
I want to thank all the chefs for creating these incredible burgers.
To our readers…please post comments on others that you think are fantastic and if I have not visited I will place in my calendar to go and enjoy.
Have a great summer and enjoy these and other great burgers in Southwest CT.